Rwenzori Mountains National Park – Uganda

Rwenzori Mountains National Park protects the special biodiversity of the snow-capped Rwenzori mountains in Uganda.

The mist-shrouded peaks of the Rwenzori mountains provide a stunning backdrop to this magnificent park, located on Uganda’s western border. The equatorial snow peaks include the third highest point in Africa, while the lower slopes are blanketed in moorland, bamboo, and rich, moist montane forest.

Huge tree heathers and colorful mosses are draped across the mountainside with giant lobelias and “everlasting flowers”, creating an enchanting, fairytale scene. The Rwenzori mountains are a world-class hiking and mountaineering destination.

A 9 to 12-day trek will get skilled climbers to the summit of Margherita – the highest peak – though shorter, non-technical treks are possible to scale the surrounding peaks.

Walking tours in the foothills are a feature, although only the experienced and fit should attempt an ascent on the peaks, which rival the Alps in difficulty.

Rwenzori Mountains National Park
The Rwenzori Mountains National Park

For those who prefer something a little less strenuous, neighboring Bakonzo villages offer nature walks, homestead visits home cultural performances, and accommodation, including home-cooked local cuisine.

Things to do in Rwenzori Mountains NP

1. Mountain Climbing

Keen climbers can choose between two scenic routes to the top of the Rwenzoris – Africa’s third highest peak! The trails pass glacial lakes, gorgeous viewpoints, dramatic mountain passes, and lush valleys.

The Central Circuit Trail

This challenging, seven-day climb provides a circular tour of the high Rwenzori. From the trailhead at Mihunga, the route ascends the Bujuku Valley via Nyabitaba for acclimatization before reaching the peaks.

Clients joining the Central Circuit after Bujuku will traverse the Scott Elliot and Freshfield passes to descend through the Mubuku Valley. Climbers can scale the snow peaks though many consider the exceptional scenery ample reward for their exertions.

Kilembe Trail

The recently reopened Kilembe Trail ascends the southern slopes of the Rwenzori from a trailhead at Kilembe near the town of Kasese.

The route along the lovely Nyamwamba Valley passes glacial lakes and some stunning viewpoints before joining the Central Circuit at Lake Kitandara. The standard route scales Mount Baker though the scenery makes shorter treks rewarding enough.

2. Birding

Birding opportunities are greatest in the montane forest; understandably, few species choose to make their home in the inhospitable world of the high Rwenzori.

Bee-eaters, Robins, Sunbirds, and Barbets are some of the 217 species found in Rwenzori Mountains National Park. Other species to watch out for include the Rwenzori Turaco and Long-eared Owl; while higher up on the slopes, Bearded Vultures, Swifts, and Black Eagles may be seen circling for prey.

3. Cultural Encounters

Walk with Bakonzo villagers through their homesteads in the foothills of the Rwenzoris as they demonstrate their daily activities, from tending to their animals and crops to preparing meals with the freshest ingredients.

See cultural dances, and traditional costumes and hear their fascinating folklore.

4. Ruboni Community Camp

Discover the peaceful farming village of Ruboni, home to around 2,000 Bakonzo, in the foothills of the Rwenzoris. Walk with the villagers as they demonstrate their daily activities, from tending to their animals and crops to preparing meals with the freshest ingredients.

Meet the blacksmith, traditional healer, basket weavers, and storytellers, and enjoy a vibrant dance performance accompanied by lively drumming.

Alternatively, your guide will lead you along the rocky Mubuku River. Ruboni means clear water in the local language of Lukonzo, and you will follow this crystal-clear stream, passing villagers carrying crops and wood.

As the trail winds upwards, your guide will point out many colorful native birds such as the Rwenzori Turaco, tiny sunbirds, and Cinnamon-chested Bee-eaters. There are also chameleons, squirrels, and vervet monkeys.

Look out for Baker and Portal Peaks rising above the forests. On a clear day, the snow-capped Margherita Peak is also visible – a truly spectacular sight.

5. Rwenzori Turaco View Camp Site

The tiny village of Mihunga faces the craggy, snow-capped peaks of the Rwenzori Mountains.

The Bakonzo tribe has lived here for over 300 years with no electricity or running water, and this community has adapted its way of life to the climate and steep green hillsides of the Rwenzori foothills. Mihunga‘s community tourism group, Turaco View, takes visitors on a cultural tour of the village.

This includes a demonstration by a traditional healer, whose herb-based concoctions are believed to cure many ailments. There is also a trip to the village school, a crafts demonstration, and a lively dance performance.

Visitors can also choose to walk with a local guide through the surrounding forests. They may be lucky enough to spot brightly colored turacos in the forest canopy. The expert guides will be able to point out other species such as bee-eaters, sunbirds, and playful black-and-white colobus monkeys.

6. Bulemba-Ihandiro Cultural Trail

Follow this fascinating six to seven-hour trail through the holy valley and other sites of great cultural significance to the Bakonzo tribe.

A community guide will introduce you to the traditional healer, explaining his powers, known as muhima; and to the local blacksmith, who will reveal the spiritual significance of the traditional Bakonzo stool. Basket weaving and fire-making skills are also demonstrated along the route.

The trail then takes you across the Kamusonge River whose waters are believed to be sweet and quick to quench the thirst. There is a break in a hut to enjoy the glorious mountain views and shelter from the equatorial sun, before embarking on the final hour-long walk to the museum, thatched in the traditional Konzo style.

On display are implements used during the Rwenzururu struggle, traditional dress, and other items of historical and cultural importance to the people of the Rwenzoris.

7. Hiking and Nature Walks

Follow the trails up to Lake Mahooma and Buraro chimp forest; through the communities of Kichwamba to the Karangura ridge; and to the Bundibugo area through Bwamba pass. The communities of Ruboni and Turaco View also offer guided forest walks of various lengths just outside the park.

The park provides an opportunity for nature walks within the central circuit zone. These include trails up to Lake Mahooma and Buraro chimp forest; walks through the communities of Kichwamba to reach the Karangura ridge, and hiking to the Bundibugo area through Bwamba pass.

The communities of Ruboni and Turaco View also offer guided forest walks of various lengths just outside the park. Visitors can follow the River Mubuku, and glimpse views of Baker and Portal Peaks as they hike up to 2,300m above sea level.

On a clear day, it is even possible to view the snow-capped Margherita Peak – a truly spectacular sight. Along the way, keep an eye out for chameleons, squirrels, vervet monkeys, and many birds.

Bwamba Pass: Before a road was built in 1938 to link Fort Portal with the remote town of Bundibugyo, local people followed the most direct route between these settlements – a tough, 1,500m high trek over the steep north Rwenzori ridge, known as the Bwamba Pass.

The Abanya Rwenzori community group leads visitors over the mountain through isolated mountain villages to visit the bamboo forest and enjoy superb rift valley views.

Bio-diversity Summary

1. Wildlife

The park is home to 70 species of mammal, including six Albertine Rift endemics; four are endemic to the park and three are rare species. Other mammals include the elephant, chimpanzee, Rwenzori otter, and leopard.

Though wildlife is difficult to spot in the dense forest, do look out for primates such as colobus monkeys and blue monkeys; small antelope such as bushbucks; and unusual reptiles such as the three-horned chameleon.

2. Vegetation

Rwenzori Mountains National Park is known for its distinctive flora rather than its fauna. On the route to the peaks, hikers climb through a series of distinct altitudinal vegetation zones; montane forest, bamboo, tree heathers, and afro-alpine. The latter, with its emblematic giant forms of Senecio (groundsel) and lobelia, is one of the world’s rarest botanical communities, being limited to East African Mountains above 3800m.

3. Birds

The park is home to 217 bird species including several Albertine Rift endemics.  Among these are 17 species that are endemic to the park making Rwenzori an important birding area (IBA).

The forest zone at 1800m contains a diversity of birds including the Rwenzori Turaco, Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, Long-eared Owl, Handsome Francolin, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Archers’ Robin-chat, White-starred Robin, Rwenzori Batis, Montane Sooty Boubou, Lagden’s Bush-Shrike, Slender-billed Starling, Blue-headed Sunbird, Golden-winged Sunbird, Strange Weaver and several varieties of Barbets, Greenbuls, Apalises, IIladopsis, Flycatchers and Crimsonwings.

Getting to the Rwenzori Mountains N.P

Rwenzori Mountains National Park is located 1rounf 380 kilometers west of Kampala – Uganda’s capital and biggest city. The park is located near Kasese town in western Uganda and borders Virunga National Park of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Driving from Kampala to the Rwenzori Mountains National Park takes around 5 hours via Fort Portal. The alternative route through Masaka and Mbarara takes longer and you will reach Kasese in about 6 hours.

Alternatively, chartered flights can be arranged from Kampala to Kasese or the nearby airfields in Semuliki and Queen Elizabeth National Park. Flights can also be arranged from other national parks like Kidepo, Murchison Falls, and Kisoro.

Areas of Interest

1. Equatorial snow peaks

The high Rwenzori comprises six distinct mountains. Although located just a few miles north of the equator, the highest of these – Mount Stanley (5,109m), Speke (4,890m), and Baker (4,843m) – are covered by permanent snow and glaciers.

The snow peaks can be reached by hiking the Central Circuit and Kilembe Trails.

2. Land of the Triffids

The misty, boggy, glacier-carved valleys of the high Rwenzori form a strange botanical world inhabited by triffid-sized forms of lobelia, heather, and groundsel, crisp “everlasting flowers,” garishly colored mosses, and gnarled trees draped with curtains of lichen.

The result is an otherworldly setting that, over the years, has been compared to the forests of the Jabberwock, the Seven Dwarves, and, inevitably, Tolkein’s Middle Earth. These strange plants rank among the world’s botanical treasures, being found only on the highest mountains of East Africa.

3. Lakes

There are more than 20 lakes in Rwenzori Mountains National Park. The lowest and most accessible is Lake Mahoma (2,651m) in the bird-rich forest of the Central Circuit.

The beautiful Lake Bujuku lies at the head of the deep, glacier-carved Bujuku valley in the shadow of Mounts Stanley, Baker, and Speke. In the Nyamwamba Valley, ascended by the Kilembe Trail, dams created by glacial moraine have created a string of eight delightful lakes.

Several rivers and streams originate from the mountain, forming lifelines for the flora and flora in the flood plains and supporting local communities.

4. Ruboni

Ruboni, found at the southeastern foot of the Rwenzori Mountains, is the trailhead for the seven-day Central Circuit to the high peaks.

It is also the starting point for hill walks, bird and nature treks, and walks through the traditional homesteads of the local Bakonzo community. Accommodation catering for a range of budgets offers gorgeous mountain views up the Mubuku valley.

5. Visitor Information Centre

Until the new Visitor Information Center is complete, all information regarding park activities will be available at Rwankingi Park Headquarters (close to Ruboni Community Camp), at the trailheads, and at the offices of the Rwenzori tour operators.

Guides and porters, along with trekking equipment, can be booked by visitors at these locations.

6. Bulemba

Bulemba houses the remains of Rwenzururu’s first King, Isaiah Mukirania Kibanzanga, who is believed to have saved the Bakonzo tribe from the Batooro oppression. Each year on the 2nd of September, every Mukonzo attends the pilgrimage to this sacred site to make sacrifices.

Accommodation in Rwenzori Mountains NP

Rwenzori Mountains National Park is one of the lesser-visited parks in Uganda. This is due to it being a very tough mountain to climb, even tougher than climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

At the lower slopes where the mountain trails begin, there are a number of accommodation options but the options run out as you climb and the only options become the various huts up the mountains.